Super filmi week: Rediscovering Gulzar’s Ghalib

Seven days of legends and loons, beauty and bane, Dishoom and Die Hard –– doesn’t get more eclectic than this, does it?

Here are all the details of my super filmi week:


Salman KhanSome proverbs really need an upgrade. Like fortune favours the brave.

At least that’s how I felt on reading the news of Salman Khan’s acquittal by Rajasthan High Court in the poaching case.

When I tell my mother about the latest verdict on this nearly two-decades-old controversy, she gives me a sarcastic smile and quotes a chaupai by Tulsidas, one that aptly sums the entire scenario:

Samrath ko nahi dosh gosai,

(The privileged are above blame)

Ravi, pavak, sursari ki nayin.

(Like the sun, the fire and the Ganges)


Mirza Ghalib
When Gulzar’s Mirza Ghalib first aired on Doordarshan in 1988, I was too young to understand let alone appreciate the splendour of his poesy. But I do recall distracting my mother by constantly hollering ‘Waah, Waah’ into her ears.

The embarrassing memory of my immature behaviour is forgotten while binging on the six and a half hours-long television series in a stretch. At the end of it, I am so overwhelmed I have to take a deep breath.

(Can’t say I felt this way about Sohrab Modi’s take on the illustrious Urdu poet. If not for Suraiya’s soulful performance and Ghulam Mohammed’s stirring score, the 1954 drama featuring an appallingly blank Bharat Bhushan as Ghalib is a miscasting mess.)

In an interview Gulzar attributes Ghalib’s popularity to his accessibility — he talks about you on your level, in ways you’ll relate and recognise.

All through the week I reel in the effect of his sprawling shayari through various phases of life, the lingering heartbreak triggering his melancholy, his inspiring sense of humour to overcome the gloom, the wholehearted friendship he shares with his wife, the dignity in his fascination for a besotted courtesan. And how boldly and breathtakingly Gulzar adapts the legend for small screen in collaboration with Naseeruddin Shah and Jagjit Singh.

One of the finest partnerships of all time, it’s a collective milestone for all three.

Naturally, it’s all about his poetry but Gulzar also successfully draws an intimate and secular portrait of Ghalib to explain where it’s derived from without camouflaging his weaknesses, arrogance or egotism even as Jagjit Singh blends with the poet’s masterful mind in his masterpiece melody.

The greatness of Shah’s performance is how thoroughly he internalises Ghalib. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t an expert in Urdu; his nuances and intensity express their sentiment just as well. Truly, it’s a character he was born to play.

His autobiography And Then One Day, mentions how even as an FTII student the actor considered himself ideal for the role. In the 1970s, when he learned Gulzar was planning it as a film with Sanjeev Kumar in the lead, he wrote him a letter of self-recommendation.

Not the type to mince words, as evident by his recent remarks on Rajesh Khanna, Shah comments how Sanjeev Kumar had ‘developed a rather self-congratulatory way of performing and was thoroughly comfortable with the mannered acting habits typical of all stars.’

Judge him for all you will but Naseeruddin Shah completely personifies the attitude of hain aur bhi duniya mein sukhanwar bahut achhe kehte hain ke Ghalib ka hai andaz-e-baayan aur.

Free Love

I have a special talent for unearthing Bollywood trash. So I discovered the existence of this atrocious and hilarious movie called Free Love.

Released in 1974, it’s an exercise for its well-heeled producer Sarvjeet to launch himself as hero/anti-hero. It’s the kind of bizarre experience following which you may want to get your head examined just to confirm it’s still intact.

Out of curiosity over its peculiar title and an odd hope of seeing vampires or werewolves, I watched it. All right then, spoilers be damned, here’s what the semi-sleazy B-drivel is about in a nutshell.

Family breadwinner Yogeeta Bali (who left acting to marry Mithun Chakraborty) is dating Kiran Kumar’s (back when he still did hero parts) poor law student. She gets a secretary’s job in a creepy faced Sarvjeet’s office (imagine Jagdish Raj in blue contact lenses and a ginger taupe) and promptly changes her wardrobe of sari to skirts.

Sarvjeet is a sexual predator, notorious for drugging his all-girls staff and sleeping with them in turns. Instead of suing the jerk, Bali’s colleagues warn her about his dirty tricks helping her escape his advances twice. For some reason, such encounters arouse Bali and she gets all come hither around her real boyfriend.

On an outstation work trip though, Sarvajeet begs her to compete with a business rival’s concubine in a drinking game to bag a tender. He takes advantage of her inebriated state while she conveniently envisions Kiran Kumar’s face in Sarvjeet’s.

Amazingly enough, no one takes offence over anything. Instead Bali, now no longer ‘fit’ for Kumar wants to marry Sarvajeet — Main usse apna pati maan chuki hoon. Kiran Kumar has become a lawyer overnight and Sarvajeet gets mawkish about Bali.

Free Love also involves a parallel murder mystery track, where it is revealed Jagdeep, and not Sarvajeet, is the psychopath behind the series of secretary murders. (I doubt I’ll ever recover from the sight of Bali playing with Jagdeep’s chest hair.)

Finally, Kumar defends Sarvajeet in court but he receives a death sentence anyway. Of course, not before leaving all his wealth and a long letter requesting Kumar to marry Bali.

Well, it did promise something ‘Free’ in the title.

A still from Suryavanshi
While working on a story, I came across Salman Khan-starrer Suryavanshi, and it reiterated how Bollywood loves to think of its audience as fools.

In a scene of this laughable reincarnation drama, Amrita Singh jumps to her death far, far away (see that tiny dot in the marked circle?) while Salman is sword fighting Shakti Kapoor before he collapses as well.

Miraculously enough, she lands right next to him in the scene to follow.

You know what the say — Jaate the Japan pahunch gaye Cheen samajh gaye na?

Die Hard with a Vengeance

Thank God it’s Friday and I am reviewing John Abraham-Varun Dhawan’s Dishoom, which isn’t half bad. Because of Dhawan, it’s mostly harmless but would do so much better in presence of cool action, snazzy chemistry and a better-written villain.

Later that evening, I catch up on some Bruce Willis with a good portion of Samuel L Jackson on the side. Everything I found amiss in Dishoom is delivered in truckloads in Die Hard with a Vengeance or what I like to call the second best Die Hard in the John McClane franchise.

The tunnel action scene, riddles in the park and Jeremy Irons as the vendetta seeking sicko, what’s not to like? Mostly, it’s so thrilling to see the effort behind lavishly choreographed stunts and set pieces before CGI overkill ruined everything.

Only thing I didn’t relish is the climax, which drags on excessively, implausibly. Did you know director John McTiernan shot a Russian roulette-themed alternate ending that is a lot darker but makes sense? It was dropped after studios disapproved and demanded a more conventional ending. You can watch it here.

1996 in Bollywood
I am listening to the soundtrack of Maachis, when it suddenly occurs to me that it will be 20 years since Vishal Bhardwaj first charmed us with his exquisite compositions in Gulzar’s political drama, as well as Tabu’s sparkling sensitivity.

Twenty years of Shekhar Kapur’s controversial, hard-hitting Bandit Queen.

Twenty years of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial debut Khamoshi: The Musical.

Twenty years of Karisma Kapoor’s cosmetic breakthrough in Raja Hindustani.

Twenty years of a scorching, seductive Rekha sharing a shower booth with Akshay Kumar or ordering WWF wrestler Undertaker to thrash him in Khiladiyon Ka Khiladi. 

Twenty years of Raveena Tandon making item songs fashionable as Shaher Ki Ladki in Rakshak.

Twenty years of M M Kreem’s divine soundtrack for Sudhir Mishra’s compelling  Is Raat Ki Subah Nahi fabulous score.

It’s raining incessantly and Barsaat is once again on my mind and screen, this time the run-of-the-mill 1995 confection that served as a launchpad for star kids Bobby Deol and Twinkle Khanna. Though not a great movie, there’s a lot to appreciate about its beautifully shot frames by ace cinematographer Santosh Sivan.
BarsaatIts stars have long left Bollywood’s rat race but the freshness enveloping Sivan’s visuals in the song Nahi Yeh Ho Nahi Sakta, choreographed by Farah Khan, continues to satisfy.BarsaatI love the luminously lit frames, the use of fresh paint and mirrors, and a gorgeous play of pristine white and candy yellow.

This column was first published on

Also read on Super Filmi Week:
Applauding NTR’s Superman on screen!
Tripping on A R Rahman
A millipede and Kimi Katkar’s monsoon romance
Udta Punjab, worst casting decisions, and naheeee…!
Of warring Khan bhakts and meeting Mogambo!
Ranbir’s forgotten romance in Bachna Ae Haseeno
Funnier than Aishwarya’s lips
Clashing superheroes and crying Khans
OCDing on Neetu Singh’s LPs!
Garam Dharam, Mantrik Origins, Rockstar Cruise

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